The California Supreme Court this week clarified rules relating to mandatory days of rest for workers. (Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc.) Violation of these rules can lead to serious consequences for employers, so the clarification is important.

The first clarification generally benefits employers by allowing more flexibility. The law has always been that “[a] day of rest is guaranteed for each workweek.” Mendoza held that a workweek is not defined as consecutive days worked (the “rolling interpretation”), but instead actual weeks, on whichever day they may start and end. The court concluded that the law “ensure[s] employees at least one day of rest during each week, rather than one day in every seven on a rolling basis.” Thus, “[p]eriods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one workweek are not per se prohibited.”

The second clarification generally benefits employees. “The exemption for employees working shifts of six hours or less applies only to those who never exceed six hours of work on any day of the workweek. If on any one day an employee works more than six hours, a day of rest must be provided during that workweek, subject to whatever other exceptions might apply.” The exception did not apply to the plaintiffs in Mendoza.

The third clarification may benefit either side depending on the facts of the case. The plaintiff/employees argued that “whenever an employer allows, suffers, or permits an employee to work a seventh day, it has caused the employee to do so.” In contrast, employer Nordstrom argued “that unless the employer requires, forces, or coerces seventh-day work, it has not caused the employee to work.” Mendoza rejected both these arguments and found something in the middle. “[A]n employer’s obligation is to apprise employees of their entitlement to a day of rest and thereafter to maintain absolute neutrality as to the exercise of that right.” Therefore, an employer only “causes its employee to go without a day of rest” in situations where “it induces the employee to forgo rest to which he or she is entitled.” “Induces” is somewhat less than “force, coerce, pressure, schedule, encourage, [or] reward”, but still requires affirmative action from the employer. “An employer is not, however, forbidden from permitting or allowing an employee, fully apprised of the entitlement to rest, independently to choose not to take a day of rest.”

To read the decision, please click here.